Richard L. Willham, 85, of Ames, IA, passed away on December 31, 2017.
Richard was born in the dust bowl of 1932. He married the love of his life, Esther B. Burkhart, June 1, 1954, at the First Presbyterian Church of Stillwater, OK. He is survived by his loving wife Esther, their daughter Karen (Marc) Willham Conley and son Oliver Lee (Cindy) Willham. Richard and Esther have three grandchildren: Audrey Conley, Travis (Rebecca) Conley and Oliver Nash Fobian Willham and one great grandson Barrett Conley. "Each has been a joyous and exciting experience."
Richard is widely credited as one of the foremost contributors to beef cattle breeding. He graduated with a B.S. in Animal Husbandry from Oklahoma A & M College in 1954 and received his M.S. in Animal Breeding from Dr. Lush at Iowa State in 1955. After serving on occupation duty in Korea as a military officer, Richard returned to ISU and completed his Ph.D. in 1960.
Richard worked as an assistant professor (1959-1963) in ISU's Animal Science Department before accepting a position as associate professor (1963-1966) at Oklahoma State University. At Oklahoma State, Richard started a beef selection project, worked with breeders and was Chairman of the Graduate Faculty of Genetics. In 1966, he returned to Iowa State University in beef cattle breeding. He wrote and popularized the "computer cow game" which is used nationally and internationally to teach selection principles using beef performance records. Richard was promoted to professor in 1971. In 1979, he became C.F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture.
A founding member of the Beef Improvement Federation, an organization of performance groups in the beef industry dedicated to the promotion of performance evaluation, Willham coauthored the organization's National Sire Evaluation Guidelines. He introduced the concept of breeding values to the beef industry and the analysis of performance records in five breed associations.
Encouraged by Esther's love of the humanities, Richard designed, researched, developed and shared the excitement of discovery with more than 1,000 students through the inception of an undergraduate course titled "Our Livestock Heritage." Self-study, art and history courses, study with curators and historians at museums, and art about livestock in major museums gave a breath to the course. Richard was excited to share his course with other professors and have it continue beyond his teaching.
Richard also taught "population genetics" to many graduate students now in responsible positions. He made eight professional trips to Europe, two to Japan and one to New Zealand. He received numerous beef industry, scientific and academic honors and awards.
Major historic works include the following: Genetic Improvement of Beef Cattle in the US (1984) JAS; The Legacy of the Stockman (1985); From Husbandry to Science: A Highly Significant Facet of Our Livestock Heritage (1986) JAS; Ideas into Action: First 25 Years of the Beef Improvement Federation (1993); A Heritage of Leadership: First 100 Years of the Animal Science Department at Iowa State University (1986).
Richard retired as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at a gala retirement party in July 1997 at the Brunnier Art Gallery at ISU. Following "retirement," he taught his livestock heritage course at Colorado State University for four semesters, he team-taught undergraduate animal breeding with Tom Sutherland at Colorado State University and he taught his course at Iowa State in 2000 and 2001. Richard developed and taught a College for Seniors Course titled Agriculture: From the Cave to the Corn Belt during the spring of 2000. He retired as a board member of the Living History Farm in 2000 after serving since 1986.
Known for his love of history and livestock art, Richard served as a guest curator at an art exposition at Brunnier Gallery, and authored a youth and adult catalog titled "Centuries of Fascination: Art about Livestock (1990). He also helped produce a historical video and essay on the Saddle & Sirloin Club that celebrated the centennial in 2003, the new club location and the more than 345 portraits of livestock leaders. In 2004, thanks to Merlyn Nielsen, Richard had his portrait hung in the Saddle and Sirloin Club portrait collection.
Richard was asked to assist with the 2008 centennial for the American Society of Animal Science and was instrumental in producing a video and coffee table book to honor the event. According to Richard, "Both were created with great love for ASAS, which I have attended since 1946. Now I think all the debts to my mentors have been paid and I can really retire."
Richard's love of the mountains of Colorado is reflected in his 55 years of yearly trips with his family to Estes Park. Among many highlights is climbing Long's Peak with his daughter and son. Richard and Esther served several active roles in the Collegiate Presbyterian Church, where they were members since 1954.
Richard was a devoted husband, father and grandfather. His endearing personality, brilliant mind and humble manner will be missed by all who knew and loved him.
Visitation will be held 4-6 PM on Friday, January 12th at Grandon Funeral and Cremation Care. A Celebration of Life will be held 1:30-3:30 PM on Saturday, January 13th at Green Hills Retirement Community.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in memory of Richard to the Ester and Richard Willham Graduate Scholarship in Animal Science, c/o Iowa State University Foundation, 2505 University Boulevard, Ames, IA 50010. Purpose: To support out-of-the-ordinary opportunities that will encourage student creativity. MS or PhD; gpa 3.0 or greater; application with plan to use funds for creative activities such as attending a meeting of special interest, taking an interesting course outside major, working in different lab, creating unusual technology transfers w/emphasis on resulting social change, developing new technology, etc. Or Collegiate Presbyterian Church in Ames.
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I met Willham( this is what he told me his name was) around 10 or more years ago at the Train Depot. I see the article didn't say he liked trains but I think he did. Whenever a unique or passenger train was coming through I would find him there waiting for it. I talked with him a number of times and found him very gentle and considerate. You couldn't not like him. Anyway, I see that he passed away and was sad to hear and wanted to send my condolences.
Esther: Outr sincere condolences. We are sorry we could nott be there.
Lee and family, I am so sorry for your great loss. I recall meeting Mr. Willham once when we were in high school, and he was so kind. Lee, your family is my prayers. Deb Frye Tjelta
Esther and family, I will always remember Richard as a handsome, distinguished, personable man. I have admired your loving relationship with Richard for years. You two were blessed to have a life together. Please know I am thinking of you and your family and pray that you receive comfort. God Bless and keep you...Anne Tonkinson Sturdevant
John and I have wonderful memories of Richard. He was always so thoughtful and intelligent. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all as you grieve this tremendous loss.
I always remember Dr. William as desicibed in the wonderful obituary - Kind & humble. My best memories were from "Indian Guides" and the many activities Lee and I participated in with our Fathers long, long ago! May he go in peace!
- Brian Stoll - Omaha, Ne.
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